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Ad Watch
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
March 5, 2002
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Two Republican candidates for governor - Tim Pawlenty and Brian Sullivan - have been running ads to introduce themselves to voters. This is the first in a series of Ad Watches from MPR News.

Ronald J. Faber is professor of mass communications in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. He'll analyze political advertising in Minnesota during the campaign of 2002. Learn more.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Entrepreneur Brian Sullivan started running television ads last summer, and is the only gubernatorial candidate to buy TV time so far. A co-founder of the company that makes PUR water filters, Sullivan has never run for office before, and he admits he needs to improve his name recognition.

In the first of his two latest ads, Sullivan points to a checklist on his refrigerator listing his priorities if elected governor.

Sullivan urges voters to get a copy of his checklist at his campaign Web site.

It's a good way to introduce the political newcomer to voters, according to Dr. Ronald Faber. Faber is a professor of mass communication at the University of Minnesota, and editor of the Journal of Advertising. Faber says Sullivan has chosen a good introduction ad.

"We see a person who is energetic, we see his can-do list, which again reinforces the idea of being energetic, we also see the fact that it's on the refrigerator, next to a picture of one of his children, we get kind of a sense, we can identify with that, all the refrigerator magnets up there," he says. Faber says it's important for Sullivan - as a wealthy businessman - to appear as someone voters can relate to.


In Sullivan's second television spot, he makes a couple of claims that deserve further examination. Sullivan says Minnesota families pay the fourth-highest taxes in the country, and, in his words, "that's criminal." He said his choice of words was a turn of phrase to mean burdensome.

Sullivan says recent Census Bureau data ranks Minnesota fourth in the nation in total taxes per capita as a percentage of income. But the ranking applies to 1997, before the Minnesota Legislature cut income taxes and license tab fees. Recent rankings by the Tax Foundation, a conservative tax-study group, put Minnesota eighth among states in total tax burden for 2001.

Sullivan also claims to be the inventor of the PUR water filter. When asked about the claim at a news conference, Sullivan said he holds four patents and considers himself the inventor. An article in Red Herring magazine in September 2000 said Sullivan tracked down the inventor of the water-filtration system, and used his last dime to buy the rights to the technology. Whether owning the patent to the technology is the same as inventing the PUR water filter may be a matter for voters to decide


Sullivan's main rival for the Republican Party endorsement - House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty - uses a similar strategy in the radio ad he's running. (Listen to audio)

In his 60-second spot, Pawlenty takes credit for leading the push to pass the largest tax cut in Minnesota history. He also works in a shot at the incumbent, who hasn't said whether he's running for re-election.

Listen to audio from the advertisement.

"When Gov. Ventura wanted to raise taxes this year, we said no. We're solving the state's budget deficit without higher taxes," the ad says.

Faber says Pawlenty successfully portrays himself as an experienced leader who's battled the governor. But Faber says the problem with the ad is it crams in too much about Pawlenty's accomplishments, "which may be fine for people who already know him pretty well, but for a lot of people who don't know him very well, they need more of an early introduction. It's kind of like a person who comes up to you at a party and starts getting into a heavy conversation, and you don't even know who this person is," Faber says.


Pawlenty's political experience has given him more name ID than Sullivan, but Faber says it's still important for candidates to introduce themselves to the public. Both candidates are clearly aiming their message to party activists at this stage of the campaign. Faber says the ads are likely to avoid negative attacks in the early months.

Even Republican Norm Coleman, who's running neck and neck with incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone in the polls, is running a warm, positive television ad touting his achievements as mayor of St. Paul.

Faber says candidates probably won't start the attacks until more people start paying attention to the campaign.